Archive for August, 2010

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Read Lately

August 31, 2010

I’ve been devouring books like a beast in the past few weeks.

Guild Wars 2: Ghosts of Ascalon by Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb

As usual, we’ll start off with game fiction, and as always, there will be no spoilers. For a synopsis of the novel as well as a sample of the first chapter, go here.  As reviews go, mine will be nowhere near as detailed as Hunter’s (who even had a live blog going) or Anjin’s over at Bullet Points, but I’ll give my take anyway. For one thing, I had a very different take on the novel as someone who started off knowing very little about the lore of Guild Wars. I had to have a bestiary open on my browser just to look up the races of some of the main characters. Needless to say, there had to be some details of important events or figures that were surely lost on me.

Despite that, I was able to enjoy the book. At first, I thought getting through it would be a struggle because I had expected to lose interest the moment I realize I have no idea what’s going on. That and I had gotten used to the fact that game tie-ins are notoriously bad about giving background information, as if they expect anyone picking it up to be an uber fan of the game and already have all that knowledge. So I was a little surprised to find that I did not have this problem with Ghosts of Ascalon. While there were many details I wish the authors could have elaborated on, all the relevant information was there so I could follow the story with ease, and not once did I feel confounded by the timeline of the major happenings in the lore.

The characters were also a pleasure to get to know, even though most of them were corny cliches that adhered to familiar and therefore standard and very specific archetypes, but that’s to be expected. The way I see it, at least each individual character has a personality, even if they are two-dimensional and never stray too far from their roles. I enjoyed the dialogue and the witty banter, and found myself drawn to the main character Dougal Keane and especially to Kranxx the Asura.

The story itself was also straightforward, conventional and everything you would expect from game fiction, and I would have lost interest if not for the quality of the writing. While it may be cliched and excessively flowery at times, I have lots of respect for authors who can tell a story and express their characters’ intents without overtly giving that information away. My favorite writers always show, not tell. Through the descriptions of Dougal’s actions alone, his emotions and motivations became clear to me, and that should be the way it is. Authors who give a play-by-play on every single thought in their characters’ heads drive me nuts.

A part of me even wishes the novel could have been longer, but it ended well and for the most part it was well-paced. It seemed like every other chapter saw our adventurers getting into yet another fight, but at least the story was moving forward. There’s no doubt this book has gotten me even more excited for Guild Wars 2, and has even renewed my interest in playing Guild Wars, if anything to discover what other tales the rich lore and land of Tyria can offer me.

Non-gaming related:

A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

This was a total impulse buy that caught my eye as I was browsing through the bestsellers in the Kindle store. Told in the first-person point of view of a dog looking for his purpose, and has to be reborn several times to find it, one moment this book was making me laugh, and the next I was bawling my eyes out. It’s cute, funny, touching, and perfect if you’re looking for a casual and easy read.

Dog lovers will enjoy it, and while I’m not big on the anthropomorphizing of animals, I still have to admit Cameron does a pretty good job of delving into a dog’s mind. Several times while reading this book, I’ve gone over and give my Cavalier puppy a hug, or thought about my other dog, a Beagle that’s now living with my parents and getting on in years. You don’t have to own a dog to love A Dog’s Purpose, but for someone who does, it definitely makes you consider your role in your dog’s life and vice versa.

The “Millennium” Trilogy by Stieg Larsson

Set in Sweden, it takes a while to get used to the names and customs in this trilogy, but overall the English translation was done really well. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first book, introducing Mikael Blomkvist the financial journalist who after being convicted of libel exiles himself to an island to investigate a family mystery for the man who hires him. Then we meet Lisbeth Salander, a young woman with special talents who rejects social norms but who has been under state guardianship since her early teens. Together, they work to figure out the fate of a teenager who went missing almost 40 years ago, but along the way uncover more depravity and corruption than they ever could have imagined.

First and foremost this book is a mystery thriller, and I knew this before I started reading. So after the first few chapters, I still remember wondering if Amazon had screwed up and sent me the wrong book. The story doesn’t pick up until after about the first quarter, when the plot elements finally come together and I start having a better idea of where the mystery part of the story was going. Several themes like the ugly truth of violence (especially against women), fascism, and financial crime are also interwoven into the main story along with multiple plot lines, and after a while you start to see how it all comes together. At times shocking and unpredictable, by the halfway point of this book I was completely hooked and I couldn’t put it down until its conclusion.

Not wanting to wait, I jumped right into the second book of the trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire. Again, more thrills and investigations when three people are murdered on the same night — and Lisbeth Salander is the main suspect.

I didn’t like the second installment as much, since once again it was slow to take off and took even longer for the story to take shape. Also, I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the mystery and the clue-hunting by the novel’s protagonists. On the other hand, The Girl Who Played With Fire, while having its mysterious elements, is more a thriller than a mystery. Again, there are multiple plots and themes, but they all come together less coherently that I would have expected. The focus here also clearly shifts to Salander, though Blomkvist still plays an important role in trying to prove her innocence.

Despite its flaws, The Girl Who Played With Fire is still a solid book, even if it doesn’t pack a punch like the first one did and drags on at times. At least I liked it enough to continue with the third and final book in the series, and I’m glad I did.

In a way, I like to think of The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest as one big novel. For one thing, the latter picks up right where the former left off so we don’t miss a single beat. In this one we go hunting with Blomkvist for the people who framed Lisbeth for the murders and turned her life into a living hell. It is a book about collecting information, preparing for a trial, and ultimately bringing those who are responsible to justice.

If you read the second book, the third one is a must. It. Is. Good. Again, perhaps not as strong as the first novel, but definitely in my opinion better than the second while providing it with a satisfying conclusion which answers all the questions and ties everything up beautifully as well. For the ending of this book alone, I feel both are worth reading. What a shame it is that the late Stieg Larsson will no longer bring us more adventures of Blomkvist and Salander. After finishing this book, I was actually overcome with a little sadness.

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STO: You Can Cold Call Me Anytime

August 30, 2010

Last week was a pretty eventful week for me in Star Trek Online, having leveled to Vice Admiral just days after grinding my diplomacy experience to Attache rank. With this flurry of activity, also came a downside. I knew that soon after reaching both these goals, my interest in the game could very well wane again. For some reason, I’m faithful to a fault when it comes to my character in STO; all I want to do is work on T’Andy and I can’t bring myself to start an alt or a Klingon. But just as I was thinking of freezing my subscription (again), STO rolls out their feature weekly episodes.

See, I’m not always impressed by the improvements they add to STO. Sometimes, I even think the decisions they make over there are downright nutty. But I’ll give credit where credit’s due and I’m always grateful when Cryptic exceeds my expectations and comes out with something awesome. And the first ever feature weekly episode, “Cold Call” (detailed wonderfully over at West Karana), which debuted Saturday was an example.

Color me blown away.

“Cold Call” wasn’t a long mission by any means, but from beginning to end, I felt like I was part of something coherent. Like my fleetmate the Combat Archaeologist observed while we were in the in-game chat yesterday, it felt like being in an actual Star Trek episode in some ways, complete with all the ingredients of a great story:

A dash of diplomacy…

"Quick question, Ambassador -- anyone ever tell you your vessel looks like a Republic warship? Oh, you don't even know what that means? Never mind then."

A beautiful planet with an intriguing population…

Honestly, the most gorgeous place in the game by far. Right off the bat, it felt like a city that was full of life, with NPCs milling about and Deferi ships dotting the sky.

Like the financial district at lunch time.

Mix in a ruthless (but oftentimes humorous) foe in the form of the Breen…

Oh, they’re fun to fight too.

"Like the Romulans say, 'Never turn your back on a Breen!'"

Throw in a healthy dose of ground combat…

"And stay down!"

Add some space combat for flavor…

"Sorry, Defera, but I'm going to be leaving your orbit with more space junk."

Finish it off with just a hint of mystery…

"I solve a puzzle and then nothing? Illogical!"

And everything comes together to create this intense, plot-oriented experience. In theory, there was nothing new — still the same type of mission to escort, find and kill enemies, do some patrols…but I was surprised at what a difference the details of the weekly episode made. When all is said and done, it’s just another mission, but I had a great time with it and feel that the devs deserve a pat on the back and a huge thank you from me for all the effort put into its design. This is why I play STO, and why I’ll continue to play STO if the future weekly feature episodes are released at this caliber.

Well played, Cryptic, well played.

And while I’m showering the devs my appreciation, might as well thank them too  for my fluidic space tribble!

"Whoa, so fluidic that my brains are turning to mush."

Looking forward to “Episode 2: Out in the Cold” next week.

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Staying Stylish In Starfleet

August 27, 2010

Once again, Cryptic has managed to coax me into spending a few more dollars in their Star Trek Online C-Store. Yeah, I’m still feeling a little bitter over it, but really, why kid myself. The sooner I accept that things like the Off-Duty 21st Century Formal Wear costume pack were made for in-game cosmetic item junkies like me, the happier I’ll be.

For female formal wear, the options are severely limited, but I like the design all the same, except for the fact that those shoes are UGH! All the same, I love having the excuse to craft the indomitable T’Androma a new outfit.  Now where does one go for a hot date in the Star Trek universe?

Where have I seen that style of cloth belt before? It's so strange, or is it working as intended?

Actually make that the indomitable Vice Admiral T’Androma, which means my first goal of making it to max level again after Season Two has been achieved. It’s nice to be back at the top, with the added benefit of not having that Rear Admiral, Lower Half or Upper Half nonsense anymore.

I’m ready for some fleet actions!

Sporting the new Vice Admiral jacket, another new outfit to customize.

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Random WoW Shots

August 26, 2010

1. Northrend Is New Again

They conquered Azeroth. Then they plowed through Outland. Now the Terrific Tauren Two are finally in Northrend, beginning their adventures in Howling Fjord (by far a more preferable starting point than Borean Tundra).

The trip through Outland was pretty disappointing, to say the least. For years I’ve played Alliance and finally rolled Horde to see what the other faction has to offer. Playing the Burning Crusade expansion, entering a whole new continent, I had expected to see some Horde-centric content right off the bat. But from the outset, all the quests were essentially the same, with little changes here or there in the quest text. Even most of the Horde towns beneath their red-bannered facades were laid out just like the Alliance ones. Come on, Blizzard, boring!

I think I expected much the same when I landed in Northrend, and the prospects of having to repeat the same content I’ve already done oh so many times before made me want to stab a pencil in my eye. But ever since I stepped foot on Vengeance Landing, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. For one thing, how awesome is the zeppelin tower? It’s nice to know that I can still be amused by little things like that. And I’m loving the Forsaken-related quests, as I’ve always been interested in their stories.

2. Working The Remote Auction House

There are few things I dislike more than upkeep in MMOs. By that I mean things like farming for crafting materials, burning cooldowns or selling things on the auction house. Things that make the world go round. Chores.

Even with all the multitudes of addons and tools available to make auctioning easier, I still hate doing it. I know there are folks who live for the AH, but when I’m logged in and on the game, the last thing I want to do is waste time deciding how much each of the dozens or so items in my inventory is worth or figuring how much I should be undercutting some bastard. I’ve even resorted to sending all my auction items to my husband’s toon to have him sell them for me, since he doesn’t seem to mind doing it.  He’s been a good business partner, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s been skimming off my profits.

Anyway, everyone has their moments of sheer impulse. During one of mine, I decided to drop the $3 to takes to subscribe to the Remote Auction House service, figuring I’d give it a month or so to see what I think. I’d read a review or two beforehand and thought it sounded pretty nifty. But now that I’ve tried it out, what I really like about it is that necessary burdens like working the AH can be done whenever and wherever I have access to my iPod Touch and WoW Armory app — whether I’m in the backyard taking my dog out, lying in bed before I go to sleep, or relaxing in the bath (hey, I do love multitasking when I can). On the other hand, when I’m on the computer playing the game, I’m actually playing the game.

I also love the fact I don’t have to be anywhere near an auction house in game for the RAH to work. No more having to go out of my way to travel to a city, which is especially nice when you’re out questing in the sticks with an inventory near to bursting. I can go to any of my characters, access anything from my inventory, bank or mailbox and put it up on the AH no matter where I’ve logged out. I can also post to the neutral auction house if I choose to do so, which means that if you’ve got a friend, laundering money between factions has never been easier.

3. Setting My Sights On The Cataclysm Collector’s Edition

The contents are perhaps a little underwhelming, but I’m still pretty excited. Screw the DVD and the dumb cards, I’m all over the art book and the soundtrack (though Lil’ Deathwing is cute too). Having both of these included in a box pretty much guarantees I’ll be buying the Collector’s Edition…which also means I’ll probably be out waiting in a line in front of some Best Buy or Gamestop on the eve before launch day, waiting for the midnight release.

Would you do that for Cataclysm, or for any other game for that matter? What do you think of people who do that?

Personally, I can recall only three occasions in recent memory where I lined up for something nerdy in the middle of the night, and it’s always been a blast:

  1. One of the new Star Wars movies, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one. Okay, it was The Phantom Menace! I was 15 and foolish.
  2. Superman Returns IMAX 3D at the insistence of one of my friends (and this was back when I was a bigger DC comics fan).
  3. The Wrath of the Lich King release, where I found myself near the front of the line with a bunch of cool guys. For three hours we talked WoW, cursed the bitter Canadian winter, and watched as one of them did funny impressions of his boss.

Fun times.

Edit: Oh, wait. There was also that time at the bookstore with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Hee.

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Mesmerized

August 25, 2010

My problem with free-to-play games is that I have great difficulty motivating myself to play them. A subscription game costing me $15 a month will have me logging in on a regular basis in order to feel like I’m getting my money’s worth, but my lax attitude with F2P has always been “meh, what the rush? It’ll always be there.”

This is the main reason I believe why I haven’t been giving Guild Wars the attention it deserves. The game hasn’t cost me a dime since I bought the trilogy a couple months back. Of course, there have been other factors too. After a handful of play sessions, I found my interest in the Prophecies campaign gradually tapering off. I had learned the basic gist of the game and gotten a handle on my abilities, and was ready for the campaign to take off. Unfortunately, I never felt it did. Nonetheless, I’m not sorry I started with Prophecies; despite its slow pacing, it was still a great starting point for a newcomer like me.

Recently, I decided to jump back into Guild Wars, this time with Nightfall. I have high hopes for this campaign, since PVE’s my thing and I’ve heard that Nightfall is geared more towards it. Thus far I’ve also had no luck getting my husband to play Guild Wars with me, so I was intrigued by the prospect of Heroes, these super NPCs that are similar to henchman but whose skills, attributes and equipment I can customize. In other words, solo play made easy.

And I haven’t been disappointed yet. Koss loves tearing things up.

However, I’m starting to think I made the wrong choice when it comes to profession. I initially chose the Mesmer because they looked fun and really unique on paper, though in practice, I think I’m more suited to a profession that’s less about control and support and more about in-your-face brute strength. I’m still holding out in the hopes of choosing a good Secondary profession that will complement my Primary, and I’ve reached the point where I can choose one, but haven’t yet until I learn more. I’ve started to do my own research, but as always I’m also open to suggestions.

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Attaché!

August 23, 2010

Since reactivating my sub for the Season 2 update,  I’ve set two goals for myself in Star Trek Online: 1) to reach the rank of Vice Admiral, and 2) grind Diplomatic XP at least to the rank of Attaché, at which point Ambassador Jiro will cease being a well-dressed useless waste of oxygen and actually start giving you some missions to do.

My idea of "leading with the olive branch" is poking you in the eye with it.

The problem is that there is no retroactive DXP for a Rear Admiral who has completed all the missions before the diplomatic system was added in. Even after completing every one of the handful of new diplomatic missions, I was still a ways away from being good enough in Jiro’s eyes. Doing exploration was my best bet. This way I could rake in the normal experience to level, as well as gain DXP if I’m lucky and come across missions whose objectives don’t require any combat.

This weekend I finally achieved the coveted Attaché rank (and I’m not too far away from Vice Admiral either), beginning my first step up the diplomacy ladder. The irony here, of course, is the thoroughly undiplomatic heartless bitch I had to let myself become to accomplish this, cherry picking my way through the missions to get the ones I want:

Some alien: Rear Admiral, Upper Half T’Androma, thank goodness you’re here! We need help fighting off the rebels that have disabled and taken over our ship! We’re dying here and–
T’Androma: *hits the button to warp to sector space*

Starfleet dude: We’ve detected some anomalies on the surface of the planet. Could mean a treasure trove of precious metals.
T’Androma: Brilliant, let’s strip the place.
Starfleet dude: Looks like the Borg have also arrived to check things out. We may have some resistance.
T’Androma: So I’ll have to fight them?
Starfleet dude: Um, yah.
T’Adnroma: *hits the button to warp to sector space*

Science Officer: I detect some interesting bio signs. We should go and do some boring old scans of boring old plants.
T’Androma: Helloooooooo!

After a few days of this, I received my rewards: Attaché title, diplomatic star cluster missions unlocked and Ambassador Jiro’s private phone number. Sigh, looks like it’s going to be a loooong way to Federation Ambassador.  Once I make Vice Admiral I think I’m going to lay off STO and focus my attentions on Guild Wars instead.

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Playing Catch Up

August 22, 2010

There has been a lack of regular updates as of late, since the puppy has been making it extremely difficult for me to get anything done. His royal majesty the Heir of Gondor craps and pees like every hour, sleeps for only short periods at a time, and likes to wander everywhere when he’s awake and do things like steal my socks and panties from the hamper and eat anything he can sink his teeth into — lint, acorns, wood chips, shoelaces, you name it. Yesterday the little devil even managed to grab hold of a band-aid I had on my hand, tore it off and tried to make off with it. Ewwwww.

But then he can also be oh sooo adorable.

Mr. Tiger has since been redubbed Mr. Maimed Tiger. Approximately 8 hours after this photo was taken, puppy bit off his right arm.

Okay, enough with the cute. Hopefully Strider will gain more control over his bladder over the next couple of weeks and I’ll be to catch up on some gaming:

  • Star Trek Online — I still have my sights on making Vice Admiral and dammit, I’m not going to rest until I grind enough non-combat exploration missions for the last 60 diplomatic experience points needed for T’Androma to make the rank of Attaché. It is my understanding that after that, things will finally get somewhere.
  • Three weeks later, the new computer is finally loaded up with most of my MMOs (I told you our internet is slow) and both Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan are looking gorgeous using DX10 with all the video settings turned all the way up.
  • World of Warcraft is the only game I’ve been playing with any consistency lately, but usually late at night and only because my husband the big WoW nerd insists on it. The Terrific Tauren Two are almost ready for Northrend.
  • I still need to install the Guild Wars trilogy, because my Twitter feed has been filled with people talking about it lately, and I’m getting the hankering to fire up the Nightfall campaign.
  • Tonight, I also started downloading the EverQuest II Extended client. I have no idea when I’m going to find time to play all this, but what I do know is that I can’t argue with free.

Have a nice rest of the weekend!

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